Review: Heathers the Musical, The Other Palace

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

‘Well fuck me gently with a chainsaw!’ Heathers has finally exploded onto the stage of The Other Palace and to add more thermal packs to the punch they have recently announced a 12 week West End transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, sending tweens and musical theatre fans alike into a wild frenzy, even taking down a second website on this new booking period. But as critics have not yet been invited to scrutinise, kindly pointed out by reviewer Mark Shenton, is Heathers worth the money? Especially as it seems to be pricing out most of its young target audience, with tickets at The Other Palace initially starting at £29.50, (with very few under 21 tickets) and only the balcony bench seats of the Theatre Royal being affordable at £25, which in our opinion it too much for the quality of seat.

Heathers is based upon the cult classic film of the same name starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, released back in 1988, hence the 80’s setting for the musical as well as its omnipotent commentary upon the era throughout. It follows ‘nobody’ Veronica Sawyer who has unsuspectingly found herself amongst the popular crowd, ‘the Heathers’, three girls ‘made of solid teflon’ and ironically all named Heather. As she realises she does not approve of their subjugating attitude, she falls into a relationship with JD, Jason Dean, everything seems to be alright from that point on despite ‘the Heathers’ now hating her, that is until she realises JD has a flair for murder having grown up with a violent father who owns a ‘deconstruction company’, revelling in the explosion of property. Therefore Heathers is both a melodramatic and satirical high school tale of love and turmoil, set to a rock-pop score. Culminating in an ultimate message of acceptance, well after a series of murders, what’s not to love?

The musical itself is exquisite, with a derisive book and catchy score, brought to audiences by a stellar creative team. The team rangled by the show’s director Andy Finkman, who was working with the film’s original screenwriter Daniel Waters; Laurence O’Keefe acclaimed composer and lyricist most known for his work on Legally Blonde the Musical was paired with Kevin Murphy, an American Screenwriter and also established composer and lyricist in his own right. The pair began fleshing out the idea of Heathers as a musical, and in 2010 it underwent both a reading and concert sharing, by 2013 Heathers had completed an LA theatre run and Off-Broadway engagement. The piece seemingly lay dormant until last year when the The Other Palace presented a staged reading in collaboration with this original creative team, we were fortunate enough to attend and it was exceptional. Fast forward to now and the whole team are back for this long awaited, fully-staged production, including a multi-talented cast.

Heading up the company are Carrie Hope Fletcher and Jamie Muscato as Veronica and JD respectively. Fletcher’s voice is astonishing, she effortlessly blazes through songs playing up to her responsive, to say the least, audience. Muscato similarly has a tremendous voice, one of the best male voices around, yet it is his characterisation that exceeds all. He adopts a consistent, physicalised state of tension conveying JD’s internalised anger directed towards the world, the character having watched his mother die at a young age and then seems continuously vanquished by his father’s irresponsibility. But more than this, Muscato is able to switch his mannerisms instantaneously from sarcastic school kid, calm and collectedly joking around with Veronica despite his ungodly actions, to deranged psychopath shouting and powering his way through songs. The pair are supported by an equally substantialised cast.

Three veteran West End actors join the ensemble of fresh-faced youngsters, all bursting into a colourful flash of 80’s nostalgia. These are Rebecca Lock, Jon Boydon and Edward Baruwa. Though the trio display their versatility playing a series of roles, they each get shining moments as their ‘named’ characters, demonstrating just why they are stage veterans. Lock’s performance of Shine a Light as hippie teacher Ms. Fleming is unprecedented, she commands the stage with epic comedic timing and a powerhouse voice. Boydon and Baruwa likewise are hilarious as Kurt and Ram’s father’s. But every actor in this piece really does work incredibly hard, we would however like to single out three in particular that excel. Sophie Issacs, Jodie Steele and Jenny O’Leary. Sophie Isaacs’ Heather McNamara is quick witted, sassy, enthusiastic but ultimately unstintingly vulnerable. Isaacs absolutely smashes her song Lifeboat to raucous applause. Jodie Steele has the ‘mythic bitch’ Heather Chandler down to a tee, with her, pardon our pun, steel-faced demeanour, rockstar voice and unfaltering energy. She is unreservedly believable as the power-wielding girl who rules the school, followed around by her loyal subjects. Jenny O’Leary is absolutely adorable as Veronica’s best friend Martha, though she is the butt of everyone’s jokes, O’Leary’s Martha is innocent and naive and then to top it all off, O’Leary demonstrates her compelling vocal range in Martha’s soliloquy Kindergarten Boyfriend, really coming into her own and demonstrating Martha’s true desolation. These three are certainly worth looking out for in the future.

But this production much like the show is not all sunshine and rainbows. Gary Lloyd’s choreography is remarkable, it is vibrant of reminiscent of the era, however the set design, though malleable enough to convey a series of locations, is limiting as it cuts off so much of the stage space that Lloyd’s choreography is unable to breathe, grow and connect, considering the large ensemble performing it in such a small performance area. Furthermore the set also looks cheap, why charge extortionate ticket prices if you aren’t providing the best in design? One or two lighting choices also seemed half hearted and weren’t particularly exciting, for instance after Martha’s soliloquy the lights faded very slowly and given the fact the character is meant to have sustained a fall, it was odd to see the her freeze and then begin exiting before the lights even came down to blackout. We felt that something was missing and perhaps it was this limiting design, or perhaps it was the characterisation of the central protagonist Veronica Sawyer. On paper Veronica is brimming with dry humour, quirks and amusing awkwardness, though there were traces of this it was perhaps underdeveloped. The direction could have gone further to draw this out. Some changes prevalent in this iteration of Heathers could also be to blame. A new, almost spoken word, rap song replacing Kurt and Ram’s song Blue, in our opinion fell flat as it did not seem to fit with the rest of the score. Though, the original song, Blue is about the possibility of date rape and could appear to be in poor taste, with the boys singing about Veronica’s ‘hotness’ making their ‘balls so blue’, it does sustain a level of hilarity. Alternatively the new number is bland, slightly more unrealistic in terms of Veronica’s escape and the comments about her clothing being a reason for them to expect sex actually go closer to genuine excuses for rape and are perhaps too near to the vein, whereas Blue flitted along the border of intangible, but did not quite tip where this song does. Similarly some changes to the book do mean that clarity waivers and jokes occasionally get lost. Yet the sound could also be to blame as there was an abundance of reverb applied to it, making a proportion of the songs and dialogue harsh to listen to.

As already pointed out design is not this production’s strong suit, the costuming on the other hand thrives. The attention to detail in the outfits of ‘the Heathers’ and Veronica is enviable, with the multicoloured jackets and croquet mallets presenting a vivid and striking silhouette, that is true and apt to both the film and era as well as whole heartedly inline with the marketing, wrapping up the imagery of ‘the Heathers’ in a neat little package! Heather Duke’s split second costume change on stage was also completely unexpected and absolutely astonishing, it added a layer of West End dazzle as well as being completely hysterical.

To conclude Heathers the Musical is thoroughly enjoyable and worth the watch, though its prices are not quite justifiable for its audience. We do not think that this is exactly the production die hard Heathers fans have been waiting for, but it comes kind of close and if you love the movie, love the show, or love Carrie Hope Fletcher there definitely will be something in there for you. Art that gives meaning is always worthwhile, even if it is in Heathers’ quirky and satirical way. The show is universal, it promotes accepting your peers for who they are and the letting go of fear or resentment, meaning this production is certainly not dated, especially given the average age of spectator. How Very.

Book you tickets now for the Haymarket stint. Click here.

Director: Andy Fickman
Choreographer/Associate director: Gary Lloyd
Designer: David Shields
Lighting: Ben Cracknell
Sound: Dan Samson
Casting: Will Burton
Musical Supervisor: Gary Hickeson

Veronica Sawyer – Carrie Hope Fletcher
Jason Dean – Jamie Muscato
Heather Chandler – Jodie Steele
Heather Duke – T’Shan Williams
Heather McNamara – Sophie Isaacs
Ms Fleming – Rebecca Lock
Martha Dunnstock – Jenny O’Leary
Kurt Kelly – Chris Chung
Ram Sweeney – Dominic Andersen
Ram’s Dad – Edward Baruwa
Kurt’s Dad – Jon Boydon
Lauren Drew, Charlotte Jaconelli, Alex James Hatton, Olivia Moore, Sergio Pasquariello

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